29th December – Bodhgaya.
Day One: Offerings and the dance
December 29th began the first of two days of ceremonies commemorating the Jamgön Kongtrul lineage of tulkus and making an auspicious connection with his fourth incarnation, Lodrö Chökyi Nyima Tenpey Drönme (Intelligent One, Sun of the Dharma, Lamp of the Teachings). Commemorations reflect the custom of remembering the deeds of the Buddha, and by extension our lamas, usually on the anniversary of their parinirvana or sometimes their birth. The year 2012 marked the twentieth anniversary of the passing of the Third Jamgön Kongtrul; in three days, it would be 2013, the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of the First Jamgön Kongtrul, Lodrö Thaye (1813-1899). These two events made it a perfect time for a festive occasion to also honor the present incarnation, who is now seventeen years old and studying at his monastery’s Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies in Lava, near Kalimpong in northern India.
During the previous night of the 28th, people had worked long hours to prepare the Pavilion stage. In the front and center, behind three thrones for Jamgön Rinpoche, the Karmapa, and Gyaltsap Rinpoche, was a magnificent, larger-than-life-size photograph of the Third Jamgön Kongtrul, Lodrö Chökyi Senge (1954-1992), set in a garden of blue flowers. Though he passed away at a young age, the Third Jamgön Kongtrul’s humanitarian activities for the destitute, young, and elderly have continued unbroken to this day. Famous for his devotion to his teacher, the Sixteenth Karmapa, Jamgön Rinpoche carried out the Karmapa’s wishes and lived at his monastery in Rumtek to care for the Karmapa’s sangha and to build the Institute for Higher Buddhist Studies, which remains a vital center of learning.
Further up the stairs in a garden of red flowers is a large black and white photo of the Second Jamgön Kongtrul, Palden Khyentse Özer (1902-1952), who was born as a son to the Fifteenth Karmapa. This incarnation was a great master of meditation and a teacher of the Sixteenth Karmapa, just as the first Jamgön Kongtrul was a teacher of the Fifteenth Karmapa. Finally, at the very top of the stairs in a garden of white flowers, are two framed hand prints of the First Jamgön Rinpoche, Lodrö Thaye, their graceful fingers curved with age. A great master and brilliant scholar of the rimé, or nonsectarian, movement in nineteenth century Tibet, Lodrö Thaye is famous for his Five Treasuries. Here, he preserved the Dharma of many lineages by practicing them and collecting their scriptures.
At the very top of the stage on either side, were two altars with offerings, including a huge red torma (butter sculpture). Six large screens spaced throughout the Pavilion showed an audience of over six thousand images of the events both on this stage and also what was happening outside where twenty-six white offering kilns, each one paired to a bright flag, sent their incense aloft into the morning sky.
The Karmapa led the ceremony of purification and offering performed this morning, known as Billowing Clouds of Virtue, which was composed by the First Jamgön Kongtrul for his teacher, the Fourteenth Karmapa. This genre of practice brings everything positive into this world through purifying negativity and making extensive offerings to the supreme wisdom deities all the way down to the local area protectors. This particular version included offerings to Bernachen (the Black-Cloaked Mahakala), the Six-Armed Mahakala in his blue and white forms, Dorje Lekpa, Thanglha (a Tibetan mountain deity with a connection to the Karmapa), and many others.
Special to the ceremony today was the participation of forty-two students from the TTS college Sherab Gatsal in Dharamsala. The Karmapa was like a kind father to the young dancers; he came to the five rehearsals in the Pavilion, brought them momos and sweets, and encouraged the dancers with his praise. For three intensive months, they had trained in these dances known as Lingdro Dechen Rölmo, (The Music of Great Bliss, the Dances of Gesar of Ling), and they moved with a precision and grace that was beautiful to watch. Their teacher was Tseyang Drolma, who holds the lineage of these dances, passed to her from her aunt and mother who learned them from the last lineage holder in Tibet. There in the nineteenth century, the dances appeared in a vision to Ju Mipham Rinpoche.
The Karmapa’s own close connection to Gesar added his special blessing to the ceremony. Denma, the chief minister of Gesar, is considered an emanation of the Karmapa, and the Fourteenth Karmapa was born into the family lineage of Gesar. Both the Second and the Fourteenth Karmapas have composed purification and offering ceremonies based on Gesar. The Sixteenth Karmapa enjoyed the legends of Gesar and wrote poetry in their style. For Tseyang Drolma’s new book on the dances, the present Karmapa wrote a long introduction detailing the lineage of the Lingdro, the connections to the Karmapas, and the profundity of the practice.
The dances are considered Dharma practice as Gesar of Ling is an emanation of Guru Rinpoche as well as Manjushri, Avalokiteshvara, Vajrapani, and others. Before the performance, the dancers recite the Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Rinpoche, and then during the dancing, they practice through their body, whose gestures are mudras; through their speech, considered mantra; and through their minds, which clearly sustain a visualization of the deity. The benefit for the viewers is to bring them delight in the Dharma and to create positive connections so that the Dharma and the affairs of state will prosper. It was a wonderful way to open the door for Jamgön Kongtrul Rinpoche’s activity to flourish throughout the world.
Today, after the first section of the purification and offering ritual, the dancers came on stage in magnificent costumes. The men entered from our right holding aloft bright flags and wearing richly colored brocade chupas, tied across with multicolored scarves. From their shoulders hung a reliquary and a sheaf of arrows, and from their waist, a jeweled sword. The women entered from the left holding long-life arrows and wearing brilliant brocade chupas, (the traditional Tibetan dress with a long skirt and wrap around top), jewel necklaces, and rows of flowers in their hair. All the dancers wore long silk sleeves, extending beyond their hands so that their movements seemed to float through the air.
This first dance invoked a shower of blessings, calling to the deities to come and be present for the ceremony. The singing passed back and forth between the men and women as they moved in circles. The men’s song called out to Gesar:
When we think of the Great Lion King,
Our legs dance and our hands swing to and fro,
Our voice comes in a clear and longing melody.
We call the celestial prince, bright sun of great knowing,
The lord of beings, full moon of love,
Great lion whose blessing is lightning swift.
And the women’s song called out to Tara:
Om. Goddess of Emptiness, Ocean of Dharma,
Gathering of the Great Mother and her retinue of dakinis,
Brilliant and magnificent, come gathering in clouds.
Create the left row of this celestial dance.
Bring down the beautiful blessing of the mother lineage.
The next dance was one of offering and praise, which was naturally followed by a mandala offering to the Karmapa and a long line of extensive offerings, mostly by Jamgön Rinpoche’s disciples from all over the world. After prayers for the lamas’ long life, the fourth song, which invoked various kinds of activity, was performed with the male dancers in brilliant armor. The main dancer wore the impressive black and gold set that stood on the stage during the nine hundred year celebrations for the Karmapa. After the monks chanted the practice of Gesar as a protector, the last song of the dance wished for auspiciousness through his body, speech, mind, qualities, and activity. It ended with “May all be auspicious through attainment of great joy.”
This feeling of joy was clearly present in the Pavilion as the ceremony came to a close on this first day commemorating the lineage of Jamgön Kongtrul.